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Hong Kong: Classic vs Innovative Moon Cakes, Would You Believe Durian?

Chinese Festivals

Traditions die hard, but - while traditionalists continue to favour moon cakes made with traditional ingredients - moon cakes made with non-traditional ingredients find growing favour with Hong Kong's young.

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Selection of classic moon cakes from Yan Toh Heen, the Cantonese restaurant at the InterContinental Hong Kong. Photo Credit: InterContinental Hong Kong.

 

The Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the 5 most important holidays on the Lunar Calendar, and consuming moon cakes while contemplating the moon is an important part of the tradition. The holiday this year [2016] falls on Thursday 15 September.

Because the holiday is celebrated at night and many people stay up late, the following day rather than the day itself is pubic holiday, which means people will get a three day weekend this year.

Fully 2 months before the Moon Festival, press releases start to arrive in the inboxes of journalists, food critics, and travel writers extolling the virtues of the moon cakes produced by various hotels and restaurants around Hong Kong.

About one month before the holiday, moon cakes start going on sale. At the Peninsula Hong Kong, for example, the on-line ordering of mooncakes begins at 8 am on Monday 24 August and continues for 5 days.

"This online ordering platform will be suspended once the allotted daily number of boxes is sold out," the 5 star hotel's website says.

Moon Cakes 101

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Fook Moon Lam Grand Gift Set. Photo Credit: Fook Lam Moon.
 

Moon cakes are a kind of Chinese pastry that is supposed to be consumed while contemplating the moon during the Mid-Autumn Festival. According to legend, the moon is brightest - and roundest - on this date.

Boxes of moon cakes are often given as presents to relatives, friends, and business associates, and they can be downright pricey!

Moon cakes are round pastries with a thick filling enveloped by a thin crust. Fillings vary from region to region.

The moon cakes most popular in Hong Kong and neighboring Guangdong province usually have a filling made from red beans with a salted duck's egg yolk in the middle. They pack a whopping 1,000 calories!

Moon cakes in other parts of China feature fillings made of various other ingredients including lotus seed paste, nuts and seeds, and sometimes dried meat.

Durian Moon Cakes

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Moon cake with a durian ice cream filling and a chocolate crust. Photo Credit: Hotel Icon.
 

Traditional moon cakes can be a bit heavy, and they don't always appeal to modern tastes.

Haagan Dasz shook things up a bit about 2 decades ago with the introduction of ice cream moon cakes. They featured a chocolate "crust"  with French vanilla ice and a scoop of mango sorbet - in place of the egg yolk - as the filling.

Ever since then, it has been no holds barred as pastry chefs duked it out - with traditionalists in one corner trying to stay true to tradition and innovative chefs in the other corner trying to come up with exciting new concepts to attract attention.

Take The Market at the Hotel Icon at 17 Science Museum Raod in Kowloon's Tsim Sha Tsui East district for example. The eatery is launching a moon cake this year made with Durian ice-cream.

The hotel's Executive Pastry Chef Danny Ho is combining fresh durian, known as the King of Fruits, with French dairy products to produce this limited edition moon cake.

Three types of durian are used: Musang King, dense D24, and sweet D101, which are shipped direct from Malaysia. The ice-cream itself is composed of 80% pure durian fruit.

Other ingredients include fresh vanilla seed, cream, butter, and cream cheese from France as well as chocolate from Switzerland.

Green Tea Moon Cakes

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Red Bean in Green Tea Pastry Moon Cakes. Photo Credit: Inakaya.
 

Considering the popularity of all things Japanese in Hong Kong, it is no surprise that Japanese restaurants are getting in on the act with their own take on moon cakes.

Since the Japanese like to flavour things from tooth paste to cookies with green tea, it is no surprise that some of the Japanese restaurants in Hong Kong are introducing green tea as a key moon cake ingredient.

Take Inakaya, a Japanese restaurant at the International Commerce Centre at 1 Austin Road West in Kowloon's Tsim Sha Tsui district. The eatery is launching a new flavour this year: Red Bean in Green Tea Pastry on top of Egg Yolk Custard.

Comment and Analysis

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Signature moon cakes. Photo Credit: Fook Moon Lam.

 

I have never been a big fan of Cantonese style moon cakes. They are heavy, the taste is a bit harsh, and I find that salty duck's eggyolk in the middle a bit revolting.

When I discovered just how fattening they were - 1,000 calories, are you kidding me? - I was convinced that there were better things I could spend my calories on.

I prefer the Northern Chinese moon cakes with the nut and seed fillings. Best of all are those Haagen-Dazs moon cakes that are filled with French vanilla ice cream and a scoop of mango sorbet (in lieu of the egg yolk) and coated with chocolate.

If I'm going to indulge, those are more my cup of tea. And they go PERFECT with a nice cup of coffee!!!

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Talking Points

Have you ever tried moon cakes? Which type do you prefer?

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